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How two recent films are changing the conversation around abortion

For Bridget, the heroine of Saint Francoiseabortion was never an issue.

“I’m sure I’ll get rid of it,” she told her not-quite-boyfriend, Jace, ending his tentative suggestion that they discuss their options. For Bridget, the answer is obvious. Indeed, it may be the only the obvious answer she encounters over the course of the film, which sees her almost accidentally stumble into a romance, a nanny gig, and a life-changing bond with her employers over the course of a summer.

In itself, Bridget’s decision is not that unusual – about one in four women will have an abortion by age 45, according to the Guttmacher Institute. What is remarkable about the two Saint Francoise and another recent movie, Never Rarely Sometimes Alwaysthis is how the choice to have an abortion is represented.

The two films are at opposite ends of what one might call the experience of abortion in the United States. Bridget is relatively easy going, involving a quick appointment with a doctor in her hometown of Chicago and a relaxing recovery with a considerate partner. Autumn, the teenage protagonist of Never Rarely Sometimes Alwaysis forced to embark on a harrowing journey from rural Pennsylvania to New York for a complicated two-day procedure.

But the two films plunge us into a rare intimacy with these characters. They give us access to their most intimate moments, from small embarrassments to major emotional crises. Rather than speaking cautiously “smash death”, or step back with a late period Where change of heart, these movies follow through with the decision, then hold our gaze even when things get messy, uncomfortable, or downright ugly. In doing so, they are opening up the pop culture conversation around abortion.

For Saint Francoise writer Kelly O’Sullivan, who also played Bridget, being outspoken meant rejecting mainstream portrayals of abortion as annoying Where dangerous, and drawing on its own history. “I thought there was an opportunity to portray an abortion as I experienced it, which wasn’t traumatic,” she told Mashable over the phone. “Yes, involving complex feelings. But not involving guilt or regret.”

Saint Francoise is billed as a low-key buddy comedy, mostly revolving around Bridget’s growing friendship with her young charge, Frances. Even within this framework, however, the film makes room for the unseemly realities of his life.

For starters, the film is full of gore. Unlike movies that treat menstruation as gross, or ignore it altogether, Saint Francoise shows us blood on Jace after Bridget gets her period during sex at the start of the film, on sheets and underwear as Bridget continues to bleed after her abortion, in a toilet clogged with a used tampon.

“Watching characters onscreen experience something, it weirdly teaches you how you should feel about something.

The goal is not to shock, but to reflect the daily reality of life in a female body. “I think messyness is part and parcel of femininity,” O’Sullivan says. “The only way to portray the story realistically was to literally put the blood on the frame. Because not to do that would continue to say, well, that doesn’t deserve a place in a woman’s story, when it is a regular part of our stories.”

Likewise, the film allows Bridget to feel a full range of emotions about her experience, even when Bridget herself would shut them down just as quickly – and shrewdly acknowledges that they are further complicated by worries about how which she imagines others will react to her reaction. , and the fears she has internalized from living in a society that disapproves of her choices.

It’s an ambivalence with which O’Sullivan is familiar. “I know for myself that when I had the abortion, even though I had complex feelings, there was a part of me that felt like a bad feminist for admitting I had feelings about it” , she recalls.

Saint Francoise, she hopes, will show the public a better way. “I think watching characters on screen experience something, it kind of teaches you how you should feel about something,” she says. Where negative portrayals of abortion can inspire shame and fear, “having the opposite of that, or at least different versions of that, I think, can show you that you’re not alone, and that’s okay. .”

Except, that is, when it’s not. Never Rarely Sometimes Always was indirectly inspired by the real-life tragedy of Savita Halappanavar, who died in Ireland in 2012 after being denied a life-saving abortion. As a result, it tells a much darker story. Autumn’s Journey unfolds like a thriller, set in a dizzying maze of legal restrictions with physical and emotional threats lurking around every corner.

However, what the film takes to task is neither Autumn’s choice, which it presents as reasonable, nor the approach itself, which is carried out with care and compassion. “I think what’s unique about Never Rarely Sometimes Always is that it focuses on the real obstacles that women face when trying to get a legal abortion,” writer-director Eliza Hittman told Mashable. hard to do those things.”

In Autumn’s case, the biggest hurdle is that minors cannot have abortions without parental consent in Pennsylvania; hence the trip to New York. She and her cousin Skylar end up wandering the city with very little money, no one to turn to, and nowhere to stay. The camera lingers on long silences and stares, denying an easy escape from uncomfortable situations.

“In writing the script, my goal is to connect the audience to their experience as much as possible, and they’re brought into very private spaces and very private times,” says Hittman. “Especially for a male audience, bringing a male audience into family planning and into an operating room – that’s not an experience that they’ve had. So that was important to me, it was to reinforce the sense of understanding for an audience who may not have access to these kinds of experiences.”

These ordeals include Autumn and Skylar’s interactions with the men, rarely seen speaking directly to the girls, but frequently spotted staring or staring at them. Girls take them in stride, because they have no other choice – as Hittman notes, “a lot of coming of age as a young woman in this country is learning to navigate and desensitizing, unfortunately. , male predators and male interactions.”

But if Autumn’s predicament has one silver lining, it’s Skylar. The girls don’t talk to each other much, even among themselves, but they don’t have to. “I really wanted to explore, in particular, the unspoken bond between two young women who go through these aggressive experiences every day involving men, and they have to look at each other in silence and back off in some way,” says Hittman.

That sense of togetherness, at least, will be familiar to Bridget across the country. For a large part of Saint Francoise, she and her employers — a lesbian couple who just had a second child through IVF — each struggle with a sense of isolation around their reproductive choices. It’s not until Bridget, Maya, and Annie begin to open up to each other, speaking more honestly about their resentments, frustrations, and insecurities, that they can begin to heal.

“Whatever you’ve been shamed into, then you don’t want to talk about, and it’s incredibly, incredibly lonely.”

“What I’ve found is whatever you’ve been ashamed of, you don’t want to talk about it, and it’s incredibly, incredibly lonely. You feel like you’re the only person going through her, and you also don’t know what’s normal, if you don’t have a conversation about it,” says O’Sullivan. “It was really important for us to show that isolation doesn’t bring anything good. Having conversations is really the most powerful thing about it.”

Saint Francoise and Never Rarely Sometimes Always help inspire candid and complicated conversations about a controversial subject, as well as other recent films ranging from Obvious child for Swallow. Often, Hittman points out, these narrative features are able to do this in ways that other types of storytelling cannot.

“Especially with abortion, it’s very difficult to find women who will be subjects in documentaries who have had these types of experiences and who want their faces filmed,” she explains. “So in a way, I think the film gives a face to the faceless.”

And while these two movies present two very different perspectives on abortion in America, neither is meant to portray the entire issue. “I think women’s experience with this is as individual as the people involved,” O’Sullivan points out. “I know with our film, we’re telling a very specific story, a very specific experience. And there are so, so many different versions of other people’s stories.”

With luck, Saint Francoise and Never Rarely Sometimes Always will be followed by many, many more.

Additional reporting by Erin Strecker.

“Saint Francoise” and “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” are now streaming.